The best news I’ve read about Iraq in a while is that, as Jennifer points out, Joe Biden is claiming that “a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government … could be one of the great achievements of this administration.” Some might dismiss this as chutzpah from someone who, like Barack Obama, opposed the surge needed to stabilize the situation in Iraq. But, brazen or not, it’s great to see the Obama administration taking ownership of Iraq and realizing that simply pulling out all our troops can’t be the sole goal of our policy there. We have to make sure that the Iraq we leave behind is stable, secure, and preferably democratic.
Iraq has been making some good progress, though considerable challenges remain — as highlighted in this Times article about a standoff in Tikrit, where Prime Minister Maliki has ordered the army to surround the provincial government building in a dispute over the seating of a new provincial governor. The fact that American troops are on the scene means that the situation is unlikely to veer out of control. To adopt a hockey metaphor, U.S. troops are the refs who ensure that, while some hard-checking and some cheap shots occur, one team doesn’t start beating the other team with their sticks until they’re forced to flee the ice.
That kind of refereeing will be necessary for some time to come, which is why I hope that after a new government is seated in Baghdad following the parliamentary elections, the Obama administration will launch serious negotiations to prolong an American troop presence beyond 2011, the exit deadline negotiated by the Bush administration. U.S. troops, in all likelihood, won’t be needed for combat, and they probably won’t be needed in great numbers — but needed they will be to make sure that Iraq really does represent a “great achievement” of this administration and the one before it.